When we were together in school and college none of us dreamed we would keep up the friendship for decades, sharing our trials and tribulations as well as our joys and achievements.
Back then, it was difficult to picture ourselves as responsible adults with families of our own. Our visualisation of what the future included was limited to what subjects we wanted to specialise in and consideration of various careers.
As we travelled along different paths in life, we kept in touch, sometimes regularly, often erratically, as our attention was absorbed by the repercussions of life-changing decisions.
A recent visit by a close friend and her family gave me another opportunity to observe her at close quarters. I had been her guest in Australia some years ago and marvelled at the fact that she was such a wonderful host, with every detail of our stay chalked out to the last detail.
She made us feel so much at home and it was obvious that she was an extremely caring person.
This time I saw her interacting with her children and it dawned on me that she was the original mother hen, always worried about her little ones who were no longer little, ignoring their attempts to brush off her solicitous inquiries about their health, appetite or plans to go jet-skiing.
The last mentioned activity was what caused her maternal antennae to bristle in anticipation of worst-case scenarios. The two brothers were told repeatedly to take care of their sister and they had to repeat to her the safety equipment available.
Listening to her go into panic mode every now and then when she felt her brood was being threatened made me try to lighten the mood by making light of her concerns. Of course, I didn’t overdo this as I knew my friend was made this way. This was who she was and I might as well embrace this facet as I have many others.
I soon realised that her fears weren’t confined to her progeny. She had demons of her own to conquer, such as her fear of heights. Standing in line, awaiting our turn to be whisked by the elevator to the observation deck of the Burj Khalifa (yes, dear reader, this is another Dubai landmark I can now cross off my list), we kept hearing a litany of “How high do we go?”, “ I won’t dare to look down”, and “I am going to feel sick”.
Our answers to all these were: “Very high”, “ Don’t [look down]”, and ‘It’s OK, you’ll be all right, we’ll form a protective circle around you.”
Sure enough, the rest of the ascent was anti-climactic as she only made mention of her ears popping a few times. Otherwise there was blissful silence. She even ventured out on the deck and went camera-crazy, ‘snapping’ everything up in sight.
In case you think I am being less than loving in describing my friend’s phobias, let me tell you about how it all builds up. At first there is genuine enthusiasm about any outing or get-together. Suggestions of meeting places are tossed about like a ball in a game. That is what happened in 2005 with our UK reunion. Until she suddenly got cold feet.
It took all of our cunning and diplomacy to get her to board that plane. We guided her through the possible pitfalls of flying alone without a husband to look after the nitty gritty. By the time she reached Heathrow, she was the only one smiling.
Once again she had found that the worst she had imagined hadn’t come to pass and she had arrived in the land of Sherlock Holmes and Shakespeare.
Of course, the rest of us were just grateful she had made it, none the worse for wear.